From the US Senator Marco Rubio From university political science professors to the UK tabloid press, many people seem to know Russian President Vladimir Putin’s health inside out.
But one important voice has been missing from the barrage of articles and speeches speculating that Putin, who is leading Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has Parkinson’s or thyroid cancer: medical experts.
In a 12-minute video of a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin is seen gripping a table. He stubbed his foot and hunched over during the clip, which was released by the Russian government late last week. His face was noticeably swollen.
The video prompted some online commentators, including former British Conservative Party MP Louise Mensch, to take the conclusion on Twitter that the Russian president suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
Days later, a viral video showing Putin’s hand shaking before a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart has raised concerns about the Russian leader’s health. In the footage, Putin is seen raising his hand and shaking it before greeting Alexander Lukashenko and hug him.
Claims about Putin’s health condition have also been published by various tabloids. Many articles include, but are not limited to, commentary from a professor of strategic communication, a couple of political analysts, and a professor of body language. But no doctor.
There is no diagnosis without tests
It’s probably not a coincidence. “Real neurologists are unlikely to comment because they are taught never to comment on people who are not their patients,” John Hardy, a neurogeneticist at the UK Dementia Research Institute, told DW.
Emphasizing the fact that he is a neurogeneticist, not a neurologist, Hardy shared his take on Putin’s status as someone who has studied brain diseases.
“In my opinion, there are no signs of parkinsonism,” he said. “It didn’t look good… but it’s not Parkinson’s disease.”
Ray Chadhuri, a neurologist at the University of London, agreed. “Looking at the short clip, I can’t find any evidence that I can say Parkinsonism in Putin,” Chadhuri told DW.
Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism are incredibly difficult to diagnose and can only be determined through a thorough in-person neurological exam, Chadhuri explained.
“The swelling of [la] face or tremors can be caused by many reasons and I didn’t see any tremors either,” Chadhuri said.
Caroline Rassell, CEO of Parkinson’s UK, echoed Hardy when asked for her expert opinion on the clips. She stated that Parkinson’s is a complex disease, with more than 40 symptoms ranging from physical to mental, and therefore it is impossible to diagnose it through a 12-minute video clip.
“It affects everyone differently,” Rassell said. “There is no definitive diagnostic test, and it can only be confirmed after examination by a neurologist or specialist. Speculation in the media and on the Internet does not help.”
An airtight Russia makes speculation inevitable
It is not uncommon for people to speculate on the state of health of the world’s most powerful leaders. The media have echoed former US President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 tests in 2020, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tremor episodes in 2019, and Pope Francis’ colon operation last summer.
For years, the Kremlin has kept a tight lid on Putin’s state of health, prompting journalists and political scientists to scrutinize all of the president’s movements to try to spot any signs of frailty or illness. Rumors that Putin has thyroid cancer, serious back problems and even psychosis have become part of the usual discourse surrounding the president.
This was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Putin isolated himself completely, refusing to approach other world leaders at global summits and conferences and requiring those he met to repeatedly isolate and test themselves before seeing him. .
Speculation about state of narcissistic psychosis
Russia’s Putin-led invasion of Ukraine in February caused the media and analysts to speculate that, with Putin isolated and most of the intelligence coming from a select few who could have told all the truth or not, the president could have plunged into a state of narcissistic psychosis.
Journalists seemed to seize on this idea as a way to explain Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which has left at least 1,800 Ukrainians dead and thousands wounded.
Whether Putin is on his deathbed and using this war as a way to cement his mark on history, or whether he really is being guided by a kind of psychosis, without any information from the Kremlin, it is all speculation.
And, in the end, no one – not Twitter commentators, not neurologists watching videos released by the Kremlin, not so-called Russia experts – knows what’s going on in Putin’s brain.